England Universities are ready to challenge for the President's Cup title again, according to Head Coach Richard Tate, who also has eyes further in the future towards a Student Four Nations competition.
"Firstly I think that the President's Cup is a fantastic competition. It's a chance for us to get some game time as students, playing against men and open age and some very good players in and around the different organisations. I think it's a great competition for us to get stuck into. It's part of our preparation phase for the Student Four Nations, which comes later on in the summer. It's a good tool for us to get some much-needed game time, and to have a look at players in positions and give them an opportunity to earn their spot.
"We've been quite successful in this competition over the last few years, although in the last tournament that ran, the Armed Forces pipped us. I think it was a two-point ball game in Sheffield. We're looking to try and claim back that trophy if we can."
Speaking of University Rugby League Tate explained, "It changes every year. With that university cycle you get some freshers that come into the game every single season and lads sticking around, if they do their homework right, and they do their studies correctly, they should be in the game for three, potentially four years, but with the rep honour, you get some lads who just want to tick the box - they've done that, they've represented their country and they either get picked up by the professional game, which is fantastic now for the student game, or they move on. It is always good to look at that new crop of players that come in every single year."
"For this squad, only six have been involved in the programme before and only two have completed the full programme in 2019, the rest are brand new."
"I was really gutted for a lot of players in that 2020 squad that it didn't happen because some of those boys had been involved in the regionals and in the North versus South game and it was their last chance to represent their country at student level. For the lads that have been selected again, they know how fortunate they are and have been rewarded for their work and sticking at it, but for a lot of them it's a new experience."
"It's quite a long process for getting into this England programme, but I think it's a great programme. First of all it's lads who are representing the regions and universities in that instance, but also it's a way of progression and trying to find the best players possible to represent their country."
One of those in the squad is Jack Cherry. "He's a second-year student from Nottingham, a very, very good rugby union player who comes out of the Queg school in Wakefield. He excels at the sport at student level and it's probably right that we give him that opportunity, because he's earned it."
"There are lads that are playing semi-professionally, lads that are involved in Super League Reserve set-ups - there is a complete mixed bag."
When asked about what to expect from his side, Tate said, "The biggest thing is that we get stereotyped - young kids, soft, academic, brains and no brawn. We like that tagline, we like being classed as the young pups and underdogs. There are some very tough and very experienced rugby league players in this squad for this year. We like to play football, we like to play expansive and exciting rugby, but we know coming across the Teachers, the Police, the Armed Forces that we've got to be able to front up and be tough, and tough defensively as well.
"Every game is different and we don't get any video footage, we know that we've got to be at our best for the full eighty minutes. We can't preempt anything. It's all about us."
The England Universities start their campaign at Saddleworth on Wednesday evening against Great Britain Teachers at 8pm. Earlier, at 6pm, the UK Armed Forces and Great Britain Police get the tournament underway.
The full itinerary for the tournament is:
30th March – Saddleworth Rangers
- 6.00pm - UK Armed Forces v GB Police
- 8.00pm – GB Teachers v England Universities
27th April – Lock Lane
- 6.00pm – England Universities v GB Police
- 8.00pm – GB Teachers v UK Armed Forces
25th May – Leigh Miners
- 6.00pm – GB Police v GB Teachers
- 8.00pm – UK Armed Forces v England Universities